Thursday, December 7, 2017

Malmann


I was very moved when I watched a Chef's Table episode of Francis Malmann.  Malmann, an Argentine, is one of the most famous celebrity chefs of Latin America, a longtime on-camera personality like Julia Child and has been inducted into the International Institute of Gastronomy along with other great chefs like Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud.  The Chef's Table episode depicts Malmann cooking various dishes on his property on a remote island of Patagonia using primitive fire cooking techniques.  Here was a chef who not only produced great food in a dramatic way in beautiful scenery, but seemed to have a philosophical system that matched the cooking's intensity and complexity.  In every scene, he not only talks of the food and his methods, but the attributes which the different heating methods evokes, the femininity of fire, the ways in which he cultivates his employees, and so forth.  Here was the chef as fully realized philosophical being, independent of the constraints of modern restaurant gastronomy, independent of the pressures of capitalism and the money-making of food.  Smoking his cigar and sitting by a massive bonfire, he appeared rather content to be thousands of miles away from the nearest Michelin-starred restaurant.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Manifest Turns 4 on December 17th


Manifest, the popular new pop-up dinner in Durham, is holding its fourth event on December 17th from 3-6 pm at Ninth Street Bakery.  We have 50 spaces available for this event.

Unlike previous versions, this one will directly benefit local Latino mental health non-profit El Futuro. Also unlike previous iterations, we will be taking a holiday party drop-in approach. We will have fireplaces going, and you are welcome to come to the cocktail hour (3-4 pm), food service (4-5 pm), dessert and performance (5-6 pm), or all three.  The cocktail hour will feature complimentary Manifest limited edition IPA, wine for sale by the glass, as well as BYOB.

Manifest focuses on real foods prepared with ingredients from local farmers and ends with a live performance. Check out our Ten Commandments of Manifest below.

Dinner is served in a shared setting and offered at a reasonable price for value.

Manifest is at once old-fashioned and novel, marrying the old tradition of the country inn table to the modern culinary world, setting the way we eat now within the ways we ate then.

Manifest’s menus, different for each dinner, are full of variety, guided first by the knowledge that food can and should be both healthy and tasty.

We are committed to deriving flavor less from cholesterol and salt, and more from freshness of food and its combination.

We take chances and explore ingredients. We challenge convention and also abide by it, omnivorous in our cuisine and our interests.

Manifest is about more than the cuisine. The central experience of eating should be part of the larger one of dining: getting to know the people we’re sitting with, widening our frame of perception, taking in more than the food.


RSVP is on a first-come first-served basis via email to this address and pre-payment is encouraged via our online storeThe suggested donation is $25. All net proceeds will go directly to El Futuro.




The 10 Commandments of Manifest

1.     Communal tables
2.     Prix Fixe: A Planned, Rather than Selected, Variety.
3.     Priced So All Can Afford to Eat
4.     Health, Freshness, and Real Foods
5.     Facilitate Culinary Creativity via (Ingredient) Deconstruction
6.     Less Waste
7.     No servers, No Tipping
8.     No Cult of the Chef
9.     Use the Venue for Performance
10. Good Hospitality is Not a Service to Be Rendered but a Gift to be Shared

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Alex Ruch

Longtime regulars of the Bakery will notice that our crusty artisan breads have become especially amazing as of late.  In July, Alex Ruch, previously a baker at Bellegarde Bakery in New Orleans, came on with us here.  He actually baked with me back in the days when I ran the Berenbaum's bakestand.  He left for a post-doc at Tulane in 2012 and I was trying to recruit him back pretty much as soon as left.  His bread has made a huge step forward for NSB's quality, and I am extremely proud of him with every bake.  We have gained new wholesale customers as a result of these fine breads, and we will be looking to add on more in the months to come.
Alex leading a baking class 

    

The breads

             

Sunday, October 29, 2017

“Wheat is life, boy. Don’t let no silly bugger tell you different.”

- Christopher Ketteridge and Spike Mays, Five Miles From Bunkum, 1972

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Manifest Three: Pastrami and Ale

Mark Solomon, wine aficionado, addresses the group

Chris May, Adam Sobsey, and I have been curating a monthly dinner titled Manifest, which could also be titled Manifest(o), where we perform dinner and then perform a short reading spurred as a reaction to the food and restaurant economy.  The 10 Commandments of Manifest printed below should give you more of a feel for it.  Mark Solomon (pictured above), Fine Wine and Whisky Director at Leland Little Auctions, brought some vintage deadstock, about 15 wines.  Some were remarkable, others went down the drain.  Thanks Mark!  Also a big thanks to Dave and the crew at Red's Quality Acre and George and Lily at Lil' Farm for supplying the veggies and flowers.  Thanks to Alex Ruch for providing fragrant loaves of caraway-perfumed rye bread.  And Chris May put together an absolutely superlative New England IPA.  I can't wait for more brews from this aspiring brewer!  Email me at info at ninthstbakery dot com if you would like an invite to our next dinner.  Our menu:

Manifest

Menu 22 October 2017

Monday, October 23, 2017

Loose Perfectionism

I have something I like to use with my managers and staff called "loose perfectionism".  Loose perfectionism is defined as while not judging too harshly any one given outcome, nudging the product and the process towards a goal of 95% complete satisfaction that is eventually consistent each time.  What this means to be is to not take it as such a moral blow or huge value judgement if you make a mistake.  Everyone makes mistakes.  The key is learning from them and correcting them with the end goal in mind.  So long as you have the end goal in mind, both in the palate's mind and in the aesthetic experience, you can drive this cyclical process forward to your goal.  Once achieved, the other key aspect is achieving consistency time and again through proper training, recipes, and protocols.  Iterative creative processes can be frustrating, so it is important to use the spirit of what Gilles Deleuze call the "rigourous and inexact" to guide you toward a superlative outcome.

On Yeast

Bubbly, natural yeast used for rising bread dough, is fickle.  I've spent years of daily feedings learning its ways.  If you decide to make a natural yeast starter from scratch, a typical feeding regimen from water and flour to yeast takes about three weeks.

There are many different starter concentrations and hydrations ("wetness" of the starter) to be used in your final dough. To name a few, there are "young" levains, sour starter, liquid levain, and salted bigas.

Looking back at my experimentation, I have found the following factors to be the key decision points in determining the final outcome:
  • Starter concentration by hydratation.
  • Usage of commercial yeast in place of or in addition to natural starters in rising.
  • Feeding times.  How many times per day?
  • Resulting cell concentration and cell "hunger" from feeding schedule.
  • How much starter to use by total dough weight.
  • Overnight retarding in bulk rise vs. rising in shaped form vs. using a same-day bulk rise formula



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ms Jacqueline


As many of our regulars know, Ms Jacqueline Wilkins has been out on extended medical leave.  Jacqueline is in many ways is the heart and soul of the Bakery.  When I think of generosity and love, I think of Ms Jacqueline.  Having worked at the Bakery for over twenty years, many of our regulars come in simply to see her and kibbitz with her. She has been saying every month that she will be coming back the next month, and now we are hoping for November for her return to the Bakery in a part-time capacity.  The Bakery wishes her the best for a speedy recovery and can't wait for her return.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Pathological Progress

A lot of people don't understand me, and they tell me as much.  I often give away bread, pastries, tee shirts, hats, and cookies to our regulars and friends of the Bakery.  And it is not like the Bakery is so rich!  Before I owned the Bakery, I ran a sliding scale Farmer's Market stand on Hunt Street where we sold baked goods regardless of the customer's means.

The closest person to I have met who is like this is George O'Neal, owner of Lil' Farm in Timberlake.  He routinely gives away veggies to me and other friends, sometimes bartering, sometimes just to bless you with a bunch of mizuna or a bagful of new potatoes.

There is no real reason or logic behind charitable giving.  It's not a sales ploy.  It's not an exercise in morality nor has it a basis in religion.  It just feels good.  It's not something I decided on.  It's a pathology.

Just as you might give your children the last serving of food at the table rather than feed yourself, the pathology of charity is one we can extend to the whole world if we have the right perspective.  The delight of of the gift is unrivaled.  To be the giver can be as rewarding as being the recipient.  Try giving something away today.  See how it feels.

Precariousness

Is the world stable?

In October of 2016, I fell off my roof while cleaning the gutters.  What you realize when you are falling, is that the air is painless.  When you land, you feel nothing for a moment as your vision goes black.  And then the pain and trauma sets in.  I was lucky, I only broke my arm.  If you ever want to know what it's like to be a baker with a cast up to the shoulder, just ask me.  It was one of those situations where you learn to trust and train the people around you because injury has made you virtually useless.

I go back to the roof in my mind often, the moment of distraction, the phone ringing, the car passing by and blinding me momentarily with the sun reflected off the windshield, the thoughts of my girlfriend who I was trying to see later in the day, the podcast I was listening to from my phone, and finally the ladder slipping out from under my feet as I clutched, flailing, at the metal gutter.  The air was painless, and in a moment I went from my usual self to a world of pain as I went into shock and ceased to be able to use my limbs and struggled to breathe.  I was all alone, and though my neighbor saw me fall, no one rushed to my aid.  Nothing prepares you for shock.  I faced it alone, and only through the adrenaline rush and force of will drove myself to the ER, all the while trying not to pass out.

The world is in flux.  The world, like our lives, is more precarious than we think.  One moment you are doing the gutters, and the next you are asking a nurse whether your fist will ever be able to unclench.  Who will be there when you fall?  Is the world robust enough to heal from a shock?  What systems, what safeguards are adequate to traumas of our times?

On Table Bread

In the 80's, you couldn't go out to eat without a basket of bread showing up at the table. Now, it is a rarity as the cost of procuring good table bread has increased and many diners eschew gluten.

More importantly perhaps, what was once a means for prix fixe and fine dining restaurants to fill the bellies of diners before plating small servings, now the  rare presence of free table bread only prevents diners from ordering more plates.  At a local fine dining restaurant, when the bread service was discontinued in the 2000's, diners rebelled for three months, and then acclimated and simply ordered more to the expectant delight of the management.  Now bread has become an appetizer, and if you want the bread basket and the compound butter, you will pay for it, to the tune of up to $8.00.  One of the local restaurants that still gives away table bread (though the last time I was there it was unsalted, which tastes like a punishment) is Gocciolina - decidedly old school.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The $250,000 slice of rye bread

I like rye bread.  Good rye bread, chewy, with hints of caraway.

I would say I would pay, oh, about $250K for a good slice of rye bread.

"Madness?" you say?

But that's exactly what I did.

I bought a down and out regional independent bakery for the small hope of make a good slice of rye bread (and incidentally, it cost a lot more than $250K).

Why would I do such a thing?

Am I insane?

I have asked the same question.

All the turnover I've experienced, the mechanical breakdowns, the ingredient mis-orderings and frantic runs to Compare Foods to buy 25-pound sacks of sugar or a dozen slicing cucumbers, was all in service of baking a half-decent piece of rye bread.

At a certain point, the rye bread isn't the point, it is the ideal of transcendence through food, through reaching through the palate and re-creating something that only exists in your mind, if you could go back to your first Katz' deli experience in the Summer of 2000, and taste that rye bread, that corned beef, that brown mustard.

The rye bread is not at all the point.  The point is the pursuit of the rye bread, and the ability to share it with others, to give something to someone that they will never forget, for all the love and time that has crafted it.

Today, the Rabbi from Temple Beth El came over for a chat and I sent him home with a bag of hot ciabatta rolls.  Earlier, I had shown him how the ciabatta is loaded into the hearth oven, and about the "mother" starter (over three decades old and still kicking!) that rose the dough.  I hope he leaves and the ciabatta makes a little imprint on his mind at his family's table, for that is what bread has done for me.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Frank Ferrell

On Frank Ferrell, by Mo Ferrell, the original founders of Ninth Street Bakery:

Some of you may know that he has always liked big projects.   And some have heard that he is working on a book that traces the earliest beginnings of Ninth St. Bakery.  Back to our roots of practice at San Francisco Zen Center and working at Tassajara Bakery.  He and friends Dan Howe and Elaine Maisner worked in the back baking and Elaine, cake finishing.   I worked in the front with customers and loading trays with pastries that sold like wildfire those days, 1977ish.  The bakery was in the Haight Asbury district. The bakery had a line out the door from opening till 2pm.

Of course the Bakers were up in the wee early hours, sitting meditation and then over to the bakery to begin mixing.

This life did shape the rest of our lives, and maybe why he still wakes at these early hours.  He hasn't actually started the memoir, but hopefully will write all the stories down as he remembers them now.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

They need to be told what they want

"Cooking for people doesn't necessarily mean cooking what they want.  It's a little bit like they need to be told what they want, so they can enjoy better than they thought they would." -- Hugue Dufour

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Manifest: Smoke

Smoke was the theme this time for our Manifest dinner.  Smoking food for communal meals is a tradition as old as human civilization itself.  Many thanks to Chris May and Adam Sobsey.  Chris smoked 40 pounds of meat!  Check out the picture of us below sliding a massive cutting board heavy with prime cuts across the farm table.  It was epic!  Thanks as well to the twenty-five guests who came and enjoyed this great meal for a value price ($25) and shared their own stories of making our community a more equitable and communal place.  Check out the post on the first dinner to read Adam's writing and get a sense for what we are trying to accomplish.  If you would like to be added to the guest list for future dinners, please reach out to us via email: info at ninthstbakery dot com.

MANIFEST

Menu 27 August 2017

Openers:

Marinated eggplant
Cherrywood-smoked tuna belly & grouper collar
Ninth Street Bakery breads

*****

From the smoker:

Beef Brisket (Texas post oak, salt & pepper rub)
Puerco Pibil (pork shoulder, banana leaf, annatto, citrus reduction)
Thai-style BBQ Ribs (baby backs, St. Louis rub, honey, nam chim kai)
Chorizo & longaniza sausage

Yucatan pickled onion
Radish mustard
Radish greens chimichurri

*****

Sides:

Smoked Carnival Squash
Smoked peaches with roasted squash seeds
Refrigerator-pickled cucumbers

*****

Dessert:

Burnt caramel buttermilk chess pie

*****

Produce: Li’l Farm, Red Hawk Farm
Fish: Locals Seafood
Pork: Fickle Creek Farm, Firsthand Foods, Carniceria Superior
Beef: Firsthand Food, Hoofbeat Farm, Walker Farm


Bless this food. Bless us all.

* * * * *

Manifesto
by Chris May



Barbecue, simply put, is the practice of cooking meat with fire. It is the oldest culinary technique we know. So old, we believe it began with the mastery of fire by our human ancestors, Homo Erectus. It is no wonder then, that with each great human migration, nearly every culture in the world has developed and perfected their own form of barbecue. Now, the techniques may vary— open grilling, clay ovens, earth covered pits. It might be called, Asado, Braii, Gogigui, Lechon, Mezze, or as my Peruvian ancestors call it Pachamanca, but the practice of patiently cooking meat and gathering with friends and family to share it, is truly universal.

Our menu this evening is an attempt to marry the familiar “American” barbecue with flavors and influences from other cultures. Specifically, honoring the cultures of the individuals that harvest, produce, and prepare our food here in the U.S.

Now I’d like to take this time to share with you some words from Andrea Reusing, A James Beard award-winning chef and the owner of The Lantern, a restaurant in Chapel Hill. From: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/07/30/539112692/a-chefs-plea

--

Inequality does not affect our food system — our food system is built on inequality and requires it to function. The components of this inequality —racism, lack of access to capital, exploitation, land loss, nutritional and health disparities in communities of color, to name some — are tightly connected. Our nearly 20-year obsession with food and chefs has neither expanded access to high-quality food nor improved nutrition in low-resource neighborhoods.

Only an honest look at how food gets to the table in the U.S. can begin to unwind these connections. Food workers, as members of both the largest and lowest-paid U.S. workforce, are in a unique position to lead these conversations. Many of us have already helped incubate policy change on wage equality, organic certification and the humane treatment of animals. But a simpler and maybe even more powerful way we can be catalysts for real change in the food system is to simply tell the stories of who we are.

Take immigration. Our current policy renders much of the U.S. workforce completely invisible. This is more true in the food industry than in any other place in American life. There is a widespread disconnect on the critical role recent immigrants play in producing our food and an underlying empathy gap when it comes to the reality of daily life for these low-wage food workers and their families.

Our state produces half the sweet potatoes grown in the U.S. — 500,000 tons a year — which are all harvested by hand. A worker here has to dig and haul 2 tons to earn about $50. In meatpacking plants, horrific injuries and deaths resulting from unsafe working conditions are widespread. Farmworkers are exposed to far more pesticides than you or I would get on our spinach. Poverty wages allow ripe strawberries to be sold cheaply enough to be displayed unrefrigerated, piled high in produce section towers. Nearly half of immigrant farmworkers and their families in North Carolina are food insecure.

When as chefs we wonder whether a pork chop tastes better if the pig ate corn or nuts but we don't talk about the people who worked in the slaughterhouse where it was processed, we are creating a kind of theater. We encourage our audience to suspend their disbelief.

The theater our audience sees — abundant grocery stores and farmers markets, absurdly cheap fast food and our farm-to-table dining rooms — resembles what Jean Baudrillard famously called the simulacrum, a kind of heightened parallel world that, like Disneyland, is an artifice with no meaningful connection to the real world.

As chefs, we need to talk more about the economic realities of our kitchens and dining rooms and allow eaters to begin to experience them as we do: imperfect places where abundance and hope exist beside scarcity and compromise. Places that are weakened by the same structural inequality that afflicts every aspect of American life.

--

In terms of food service labor, what does an ethical food economy look like? How do we take steps to change the status quo?

In ideal world, our society would recognize the true value of the labor that makes our food possible by fairly compensating and including/supporting the migrants doing this work in our communities. The cost of doing so would be passed along to us as consumers.

Unfortunately, a specific roadmap for completely changing the reality of our food economy does not exist, but there are a couple thoughts I would suggest we consider. 

Tonight, we are taking the first step by learning and being mindful of the food environment we participate in. The decisions we make as consumers can influence the market in which we operate. You can choose to eat at restaurants that pay a living wage, or that support community initiatives that help migrant workers. In most cases, however, restaurant wages are still the lowest in our country. The next time you eat at a restaurant, your tip can make a significant impact on your server and depending on the restaurant, cooks and bus staff.

To elaborate further on Andrea Reusing’s essay, there are other ways that we can support the under-represented, and under-resourced Latino migrants that make our food economy possible. I work for El Futuro, a mental health clinic just right around the corner from here that helps Latino families in our community.  Not long ago I remember one of our clinicians telling a story of a child client that was having some trouble in school. A family friend referred her to our clinic. This young girl was doing poorly in classes due to trauma experienced during her migration here. Her father, a food service worker, did not speak English and was not sufficiently equipped (time, financial resources) to help his daughter. Our therapists worked with this young girl and eventually her father, to build a strong support system at home and address not only her trauma, but her father’s as well. Today, she is thriving in school and working towards a brighter future.

El Futuro is one of several non-profit organizations serving the Latino community here that help to create a community of welcome. Organizations like these recognize the economic disparity and the insufficient access to resources that exists for our Latino neighbors. If you want to support and engage with those that make your food possible, consider volunteering with or financially supporting one of these Latino-serving non-profit organizations. 

El Futuro
El Centro Hispano
Urban Durham Ministries

Meat smoking begins at 5am

A place at the table






The main course


Adam Sobsey speaks to food culture and gastronomy

Twilight feast

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Andrea on Food Labor

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/07/30/539112692/a-chefs-plea;

Farm to Table

Eric Smith, artisan woodworker and farmer in Timberlake, NC, built us a fantastic 8' long farm table for our patio.  Previously, he has also contributed a table to Panciuto in Hillsborough and other local establishments.  We are stoked to have this piece of handmade furniture, crafted from salvaged boards.  The farm table brings people together - it is really a special way to share a meal.  This is the second table we have added to the patio, the first (about two months ago) from local craftsman Todd Levins.

I was able to do a short email interview with Eric, who happens to be a great writer and thinker as well as a carpenter:

When did you first get into carpentry? 

I started doing carpentry about 12 years ago in the small seaside town of Essex, Massachusetts. I was in my mid-20's and, oddly enough, working at a bakery at the time.

How did your skills develop? 

I had absolutely no experience when I applied for a job fixing antique chairs at Walker Creek Furniture in Essex.  My boss told me he was glad I was inexperienced because I would do things his way and not the 'right' way.  After gluing spindles, stretchers and back-splats together for several months, I graduated to fixing dressers and whatever else people would drop off at the store to get fixed.  Over time I began to gather the basic skills of woodworking and also a general knowledge of wood and how it's used to make useful objects.  My boss noticed that I had a flair for creativity and began to ask me to create 'one-off' pieces of whimsical furniture for the showroom, some of which were very well-received.  A few years later I was running the wood-shop where I had started out fixing chairs in the corner with only a handful of tools that I knew how to use.  

Tell us about your idea for this table in particular,  any technical details,  and any special considerations. 

I've always liked the atmosphere of 9th St Bakery - the big industrial expanses of floor-space, the unpretentious straightforward feel of a bakery interested in turning out delicious food and beverages, the location right in the cusp of downtown Durham.  I wanted to make a thoroughly sturdy table, both in form and function, to match the industrial scale of the place.  But I also wanted to make something warm and familiar in the way that bread is warm and familiar, and also inviting and down-to-earth. The design is simple, classic, dependable and, hopefully, not without a degree of rugged elegance.

Tell us about the wood that you used for it what it's made of, and where you found it?  

The wood for the table top is 'heart pine' and I got it at the Reuse Warehouse in Durham.  They got it from a 100+ year old tobacco barn a few counties over and milled it up into manageable thicknesses.  Heart pine is very resinous and thus holds up very well over time, as well as finishing to a lovely flame-orange glow when oiled.  The wood for the base is also mostly heart pine, the legs having come from a dumpster that I raided a few years ago.  The channel running up the sides were where the floorboards interlocked.

Tell us about your connection to the Ninth Street Bakery and the connection between the Farm and the Bakery

I've enjoyed coming to the Bakery in connection to Lil Farm's partnership with 9th St. in its production of Queen George's Ginger products.  Many late nights of filling jars with candied ginger and syrup, the radio blasting and my energy levels sustained by a steady supply of delicious baked goods, coffee, and the insistent cadence of the assembly line.  Visiting in the day time is a much different experience.  I've had some very lovely and calm moments sipping coffee on the patio watching Durham busily hum all around me.  It's awesome to see produce from Lil Farm end up in a fantastic soup or some other offering.  But the Farm can't take credit for the Mandelbrot - that's my favorite thing they make...except for maybe the Babka.  Or challah.  Hard to decide.

Eric inspecting his work

The table in action (in the foreground)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Manifestos

Adam Sobsey returned from a summer trip to France with a mission: to reimagine the moderately priced, high quality bistro food that is so common in towns large and small outside of the big cities like Paris.  This food relies on fresh ingredients, not processed food, and is prepared to order.  Tipping is not part of the culture (service/gratuity is included in the cost of the meal).  A sense of communality and community is the ethic of the bistro.

We discussed this over Mapo Tofu at Szechaun Garden and the possibility of creating a dinner around these principles (at the Bakery) on a recurring basis.

Adam's a writer, and I brought up the fact that really, what he was laying down was a manifesto about the state of our food economy and modern gastronomical habits.  His "day" job is as a bartender at a local fine dining restaurant, so these issues are presented to him literally five nights a week.

The manifesto was written and performed, the food was prepared, and the people enjoyed.  This was on July 30th.  Our next one is August 27th.  Check out the pics and video below.

To everyone who passively enjoys the food culture of the Triangle, I say check your passivity at the door.  Great privilege means that we have the onus to think actively about food culture.  I hope these events spur more discussion, more behavioral and consumer changes, more manifestos.  We have titled the event Manifest, and we hope you can join us.  Manifest will be unlike fine dining, and more like family meal, served family style, without tipping, for a moderate cost ($20-$30pp).


MENU

Pan amb tomaquet

Insalata caprese w/ hand-pulled mozzarella

Spicy yellowfin tuna “dragon” “roll” w/ shiso-celery leaf chiffonade
Accompaniments:
Proven├žal piment cabbage sort of like the kind we had at that place in Borough Market
Potato-cucumber salad in celery vinaigrette
Potato-cabbage wok-salvage

Sweet minty tomatoes

Ari’s 
tarte tatin

Yellowfin Sesame-Encrusted Tuna Loin Encrusted with Shiso and Celery Leaf

Adam and the fruits of the BYOB


MANIFEST
The common, recurring image of our present moment: a person sitting in a parked car, with the engine and the air conditioning running, using a smartphone, drinking a soda and/or eating fast food.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

back when bread was bread and bikes were a primary mode of transportation

smoked meat is the best meat

"There's something about having a smoked meat sandwich on rye bread with that yellow mustard. Smoked meat is delicious on scallops, it's delicious on liver, it's delicious with kidneys, it's delicious cold on its own with celery root.  It's not just a sandwich stuffer, we cook it, we do the Joe Beef liver with the smoked meat on it and three little slices of pickles -- it's wonderful food.  Smoked meat is the best meat. Of all the meats it's the finest of the meats."

David McMillan, Joe Beef, via Munchies

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Do you remember that time Hannibal Buress dropped in on Moogfest and stole the whole weekend?

at Motorco
hannibalburess_photoby_capblackard.jpg (806×518)
building a Moog

with Flylo

Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Good bread was sufficient unto itself, at any hour of the day; it needed no accompaniment, not even butter."  -- Steven Laurence Kaplan, Good Bread is Back

Monday, April 24, 2017

Working Side by Side With Latinos

This is kind of a funny story.  I was working at Ninth Street Bakery in the Fall of 2009.  I was mixing bread and doing the oven work, baking off the loaves.  And one day, when baking the challah, I forgot to set my timer correctly, and the loaves came out 10 minutes too dark.  And the customer refused the loaves and requested replacements, asap.  So after a 10 hour baking day that started at 4:30am, I drove back from Carrboro to Durham to mix another batch.  Around 7pm, the dough was ready to shape.  Except I had never formed round challah before (it was Rosh Hashana time, when round challahs are traditionally made).  I asked Antonia, one of the bread formers (she knew how to make all the dough shapes), to help me.  Antonia, a native of Honduras, was helping me, an East Coast Jew, make challah for Rosh Hashana.  The irony was not lost on me.  The loaves were made and baked off for the customer.  But the image of standing there while Antonia instructed me stuck in my mind to this day.

President Trump seems to find the mere existence of Latinos, legal or otherwise, to be problematic.  If he knew who is on the job sites of America, or if he had worked side by side with Latinos, I wonder if he would gain an appreciation for their work ethic and skills.  As is typical for many restaurants, the Latino workers at the Bakery, all eight of them, are some of the hardest working and reliable employees I have.  To denigrate them rather than celebrate them is misguided and racist.

We are working with El Futuro to give away free cookies and coffees to patients who meet certain treatment goals.  This is a small and seemingly insignificant way to support the Latino community in Durham, but I think when Latino families come into the Bakery, it reminds me that all are welcome and that we (and by we I mean the service industry) have a collective responsibility to serve every race and income class.  I hope we can do more in the future.

More here on immigrants in restaurant kitchens: https://lifeandthyme.com/video/migrant-kitchen-ep1-chirmol/

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Take them by the hand

We had two new pastry cooks come on in February and our Assistant Manager Jacob and I have been hard at working training them.  The longer I've owned the Bakery (it's been about three-and-a-half years), the more I've come to value training.  It's said that the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden would teach his players on the first day of camp the best way to tie their shoes so they would never go untied in the middle of a game.  And that is precisely the point, that a successful Bakery, like most businesses, concentrates on the details and the thousands of micro-adjustments that add up to a perfect loaf.

Another great example is one from master baker Jeffrey Hamelman.  He recounts a tale of mixing Irish Soda Bread in Dublin in a converted pig trough.  At dawn the buttermilk would splash in and he would then be "up to his elbows" mixing the dough with the owner perched over his shoulder telling him to mix it more gently, with a light hand, so that the pastry would be soft and flaky instead of dense and hard.  Many days, I am like that owner, on the floor, showing our employees the best way to clean an 80 quart mixing bowl or to organize the walkin or how to properly cream butter.  It is highly repetitive work, but also rewarding.  When I can move on to another task and trust that recipes will be executed to (near) perfection, it is enormously satisfying and the Bakery is stronger for it.

How Long Does It Take to Learn to Bake Bread?

I sometimes get asked how long does it take to learn to bake bread.  

3 weeks to learn the basics.

3 months to gain a proficiency.  

5 years to gain mastery.  

But the learning never stops.   I learn something new about bread every week.   It is like a chrysalis endlessly unfolding or like a snowflake fractal growing at the cusp of its edge.  It is periodically frustrating, but it always brings me back with renewed interest.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Mural

Ninth Street Bakery recently invested in a new mural above our Downtown space.  I think it really brightens it up, and evokes our from-scratch mentality.  Our organic flour is milled locally at Lindley Mills in Graham, NC, so you know that our flour has been milled from whole grain and used within about two weeks!  That is the main difference between our product and factory-made supermarket products.  No preservatives, no additives, ever.

Before and After

Scott Nurkin, owner of The Mural Shop, is a one-man business.  He saw this project through from start to finish, initially brought in for the job by Julie Cohoon from Center Studio Architecture.  I got to speak with Scott on tape for a little bit to learn more about him and his muraling work.

What was your background in muraling and how did you get started?

I started at UNC in the Painting and Drawing program and got my BFA there.  As soon as I graduated, there was a muralist named Michael Brown who lived in Carrboro who was looking for an apprentice.

I apprenticed for him for 3 years, taking that job right out of school, not thinking I would stick with muraling forever. I spent the summer working for him, then I begged him to work full time which I did for three years, then after three years we amicably parted ways and I struck out on my own.

At the same time I was touring with a band (Birds of Avalon), and it afforded me to make some money and then head out on the road for months at a time.  I did that from 2003 till 2008.  Then the economy tanked, the band slowed down, so I had to figure out what to do next and I decided to commit to muraling full time.

I built a website, and slugged it out from 2008 to 2013, taking any job, whether it be hand-painting signs in peoples' garages or that kind of thing.  I was slowly building up a clientele and a portfolio and the last couple of years it has been pretty good.  For some reason the mural industry is booming right now, and it probably has something to do with street art becoming really popular, with graffiti writers turning into rock stars on social media....so by 2017 the business has been good to me.

How do you incorporate the creative into your commercial jobs?

I try to use my talent to understand what a client wants and shape that direction versus being like, "This is my one style."  I think my style comes out in everything I do though - for instance with Ninth Street, there is a tie in to wheat and breadmaking so that worked out nicely but another example for a job I was recently doing in South Carolina - there is a mixed use space there on top of an industrial cotton mill from the 1800s so all the art references cotton ginning -- I kind of pride myself on using my skills as an artist and what I like and what I reference and incorporating it into what clients want. I use my forces to steer the client, but ultimately it is the client's vision.

What was the process and vision for this project at Ninth Street Bakery?

So this one started a year ago.  The original concept was a wheat tie-in, and I took that idea and ran with it.  It moved from a single stem of wheat to a field of wheat given the linearity of the space and I thought something colorful and impactful would suit the space. So the idea was to do a huge impact right away so that as soon as you turn the corner, you can't help but go, "Whoa, what is that?"  Then there was the decision of doing realistic wheat versus some kind of cartoonish wheat and we ultimately did the realistic wheat because I thought it would be taken more seriously that way.

Luckily this one was so high up that I had a lift and the lift affords me the ability to move really fast up and over the space so I can touch the wall all across the several hundred square feet I had to work -- versus using a ladder where it's a lengthy process of gridding the image out and make sure all the lines are going exactly up and down, stepping back, etcetera.  So I didn't have to grid this one - it was a lot of using the eye on the stem work so that it looked balanced and fit the space and layering the color in.  I also used aerosol on this one which is not something I typically use a lot but I loved it, and I loved the way it responded to my vision of the piece.

So what's next for Scott Nurkin and The Mural Shop?

There is more work here [we are in discussion on a mural on the interior of the Bakery], and there is a project in Raleigh - an inclusionary project -- "Welcome to Raleigh, Y'all" in 16 different languages, to counter some of the political movements that the clients feel are not correct in our State. This is going up near Downtown Raleigh.

After that, there is more work at the cotton mill in South Carolina, as well as some big work for some small towns in North Carolina, Sanford and Carthage, so a lot is coming up.  In terms of expanding what I do, I just spoke with some people about hiring on some extra help, mostly office manager and backoffice help, so hopefully by 2018 we'll have some more employees and the company will have expanded.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Parking Downtown

In just a month since the new parking meters have gone in Downtown to increase revenue for the City, we have seen weekday foot traffic to the Cafe decrease an estimated 10-20%.  Apparently, just like the seniors affected in this article, there exists a whole class of people who would probably rather stay away from Downtown rather than pay a meter fee.  Before the meters, on-street parking was hard to come by, but not impossible. I imagine the folks that would rove around looking for a spot are now preferring to stay away rather than pay or go into a parking deck.  I just hope that there is a learning curve here and that folks slowly learn to use meters and start coming back.  I would hate for something like parking meters to impede the growth of the City.

I wonder if the revenue gained by the City will outstrip the daytime business lost for Downtown businesses like the Bakery.  What is the breakeven point?  Fact is that there are so many places for folks to shop nowadays that we still need to give incentives to come Downtown.  Just imagine what would happen if Southpoint Mall starting charging shoppers for parking to try to increase revenue?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Pay Scale

I look at our pay scale at Ninth Street and continually hope to add on new customers because with new wholesale customers, we can pay our employees more. My goal is that everyone in skilled baking or cafe positions make $14.00/hr. We are closer to that now then when I took over the Bakery in 2013. But I still look at the disparity in pay across industries and wonder how it is that some folks can make more than three times what others make and we are all working full time.

This was brought into high relief for me when I worked for Duke for a short time before owning the Bakery. I worked in a Division with physician leaders and spoke with one about how entry level physician pay at a community clinic might be $150K, which was more than three times what I was making as a research analyst (and I thought I was doing quite well!). It makes sense that physicians should be paid more than analysts, but for that multiplier to be 3x made me think that it's strange that we pay the same price for goods and services. If we go out for hamburgers, we might pay the same price, but for the physician, that hamburger is effectively a third as expensive (it puts one third the dent in his disposable income).

Without a robust safety net for folks on the bottom of the stratification ladder, it makes no sense to me that pay should be as stratified as it is. I understand we exist in a free market where supply meets demand, but for the economics to dictate that some jobs to pay so little, while other pay so much is indefensible. I would love for the food service living wage to be $42.00/hr instead of $14.00, but the economics of this business do not allow for that. Until we have a redistribution of income and universal access to basic services such as higher education, technical training, health care, transportation, and so forth, there is no way we can live guilt-free in a society obsessed with foodie-ism, fancy beers, and Snapchat.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Death of the Celebrity Chef

It may be that I am writing on a topic already long gone past, but the celebrity chef is dead.

I don't mean the Emerils, the Fieris, but instead the Boweins, the Changs, the Rickers. Around 2011, when the celebrity hipster chef was in full force, it was this beautiful combination of ethnic food and English-speaking, classically trained chefs who could translate Asian (or otherwise) food for a Caucasian palate. I was completely obsessed, buying the Momofuku Cookbook, the Mission Chinese Cookbook, among others. They were like rock stars on Vice TV's Munchies channel or on the pages of Lucky Peach. It was so enchanting.

And now, those restaurants have lost their charm, and perhaps their purpose. On a recent and much-planned culinary trip to New York, I got to encounter the actual restaurants that made the foodie movement of the 2010s, and the results were unimpressive and underwhelming. The dishes, now having been served the same way for years, have lost their appeal, urgency, or novelty. The pork buns at Momofuku Ssam were whatever. The restaurant was less than a quarter full, which was disappointing in itself when I had always imagined it with a line down the block. Even the newer upstarts, like Black Seed Bagels (of the Mile End Deli restaurant group), a Jewish ethnic rediscovery project, was downright bad. The bagels were underrisen and borderline inedible - it was like eating roughage. The trip perfectly mapped our gastronomical moment of having gone from foodie-ism to fatigue. The celebrity chef is no longer in the building, he or she is on Snapchat.

My resolution from the trip was that for future food pilgrimages, I would skip the celebrity chefs, the contrived food that was backed by a good PR team, and instead head for authentic restaurants only. My best meal all trip might have been a $3.00 foil-wrapped jalapeno and cheese tamale that came out of a steam basket underneath a bar at 2AM in a dive in Leffert's Gardens.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Twilight

Looking ahead to what 2017 may hold, I'm concerned that Durham and the nation are in a twilight zone.  Not the Twilight Zone, but a twilight zone where investment and families that have planted themselves in Durham (making it one of the fastest growing municipalities in the nation) are showing a "wait-and-see" attitude after the election in one of the bluest counties in North Carolina.  Our flickering twilight refers to how we are largely going along "business as usual" while we wait for Trump to take office.  Restaurants are still filled, and the Bakery's business could not be better.  We are servicing new customers, new restaurants, and showing growth with existing wholesale customers.  But the anxiety remains that should Trump open the floodgates on U.S. debt through tax cuts (especially for the 1%) or by making war, US finances may quickly spiral and all the consumer confidence (and jobs) gained post-2008 may be lost.